We have heard a lot about habits. How they form, what to do when you miss a day, with how much you need to start, what you need to avoid, etc.
But nobody talked about specific triggers of habits. And they are the root of a habit, something that springs us into action whether we liked it or not. We only start paying attention to the triggers which cause a bad habit because…. they are bad – duh!
Even though it appears that sometimes we can’t even find what the trigger for action really is. And that’s why we will explore the 5 types of triggers that you can have for a habit. Every single habit that you have has one of these triggers and if you can find it, it will make controlling your habit easier.
This is one of the most common triggers for a habit. You are walking down the street and once you turned the corner, you see that ice cream stand. 60 seconds later, you have a chocolate chip delicious flavor in your mouth.
How did it happen? Well, the location of that ice cream stand is always the same and if you have repeated the same action multiple times, your brain immediately registered that as a habit.
Certain locations seem to bring out certain actions and habits out of us and this is the first thing to take notice on.
- You always take an ice cream at this corner?
- You always smoke at the water cooler?
- You always buy a pancake at the pier?
All of these are triggered by location. The best response to this is to avoid the location all together.
There is a great kebab stand near my apartment and I’m really a sucker for the great durum kebab (many Europeans will understand). So what I do is avoid that corner like it’s the bubonic plague.
You can do this with your location based triggers and skip the habit altogether.
The clock ticks 11 am and it’s time for a double shot espresso for you! There are certain habits which occur only at a certain period of time for an individual. These can be eating cookies at 3 pm because that’s the time when you feel the most tired.
Or turning on the TV because the sun is down.
Time is important as a trigger because you can’t actively avoid it (3 pm will come, whether you like it or not), but what you can do is consciously notice what kind of habit springs from you at the certain period of time.
Then, you mark that either on a piece of paper or write it somewhere down. This is great because, for the next time, you can prepare in advance for the time when the habit needs to occur.
I always have a craving for sweets around 7 pm, just after my nap. But I learned that if I drink B-Aktiv yogurt, I lose the craving. So I tend to replenish my apartment with the healthy LGG yogurt instead of endless amounts of sweets.
3. Emotional State
The best example is when you start biting your nails – it’s the moment when you feel the most stressed out and that is a trigger from an emotional state. Emotional states like sadness, aloneness, anxiety, stress, feeling down and many more can occur for us at almost any moment.
They are the most flickery ones because they are hard to spot at first. I used to have a nagging habit of biting my nails. No matter what I tried, it didn’t help. I just kept doing it.
But then, I found out what my trigger was. And it wasn’t nervousness and boredom. Whenever I felt bored, I started to bite and chew my nails in an instant.
The first thing was to be conscious of the way I was feeling at the moment of biting my nails. When I found out that I was biting my nails when I felt bored, it was quite easy to stop doing that thing and simply focus on my breathing at that time.
And with that simple thing – identifying the trigger of a 20 year long bad habit – I managed to stop doing it. It took me around one month to stop biting my nails and for the first time in my life actually have nails! (#SoExcitedThatIJustCan’tHideIt)
For something that appeared to be impossible for me, it happened to be the easiest thing I gave up in my entire life. That’s what it means to find the trigger of a habit and stop it from happening.
4. Other people
There are certain people who just play with our nerves like a musician plays the guitar. And it’s no wonder that we react the way we do– there is something in the phrases that they use which simply triggers us into certain behavior.
My ex-boss was a real dickhead. We used to work on a project like 7 years ago and I still pop on him on the streets and he always has the same approach toward me.
He acts like I’m his son and need to get his approval for every single thing I do in my life. He is still in that boss-intern frame and no matter what I do, that is something I can’t change. It’s like the high-school effect. No matter how successful you are today, you will still be Fat/Loser Mike for everyone at your high-school reunion.
But what you can do is stop the reaction that you have toward those people.
With my ex-boss, I realized that every single thing that comes from his mouth is an invitation for a punch in the face. But I didn’t stop there. I dug deeper to see what the underlying problem is and I found it.
The problem for me was that he was behaving in a way that made me feel small in my life, like a person who is not enough as it is and needs to get his approval. As soon as I realized that this was the underlying problem, I managed to cool myself off. I even tried confronting him about this but it had zero effect. So then I had to rely on reframing this in my mind and I did that by thinking about this problem as irrelevant.
This guy is a dick and he’ll probably stay like that…. and that’s fine. Because there is no reason why I should care about his attitude toward me.
This was my specific situation but don’t call your boss a dick at your current working place because you know… you might get fired. But it’s about finding out what rubs you with other people and then, as the nail-biting problem, it will be easier to fix.
5. Immediately preceding action
You know the guy who tells you “I told you so” and you immediately start yelling on them. That is a habit that immediately precedes action. The easier to understand example is when your phone rings and you pick up to answer. The ring of the phone is an immediately preceding action. The same thing is with a notification marker from Facebook or Instagram – you see it and then you open your messenger.
The best way to spot these is to see the relation of the thing you do afterward. Most of our habits stack on top of each other and these triggers are easy to spot using reverse engineering.
I am scrolling the news feed for 20 min.
How did this happen?
I got a new notification and opened up Facebook.
I saw the notification and refreshed the page.
As soon as it happened, I kept scrolling.
Click on notification, but then close the window. You have the effect, get to the cause and you can prevent this trigger from affecting you.
There you have it– the 5 triggers that cause every single habit. Take a look at your habits and see which of the five would help you the most. And if you want to grow life-long habits, join my newsletter and learn how to grow life-long habits.